Listen to this article:
New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Monday, April 4, allowed journalist Rana Ayyub to travel abroad – four days after an eleventh hour summons from the Enforcement Directorate led to her being stopped from travelling to London.
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh allowed the writ petition filed by Ayyub, Bar and Bench has reported. The full order is awaited.
The journalist was barred from leaving the country on March 30, citing a lookout circular. The actual ED summons — delivered by email to her in connection with a case alleging misuse of COVID-19 relief funds — arrived in her inbox much after she was already stopped by immigration officials, she had told The Wire. Further, the summons were for April 1, the very day Ayyub’s event was to take place.
Ayyub was travelling to Europe to deliver talks and participate in events themed on violence against women journalists. Like other journalists in India who are seen as critics of the government, Ayyub is a frequent target of online attacks – which range from death threats to other forms of targeted harassment.
On March 31, Ayyub moved the Delhi high court challenging the ED’s restraint upon her travelling abroad.
On Monday, according to the Bar and Bench report, advocate Vrinda Grover told the high court that Ayyub has been in constant touch with the ED and refuted the latter’s allegation that she was unwilling to join the investigation.
“The LOC [lookout notice] was issued on March 28 because the journalist had announced her programme on social media,” Grover argued in court.
Grover also sought to highlight the role of the ED in allegedly suppressing freedom of the press.
“The entire operation is malafide. The press is the fourth pillar of democracy. I am someone who speaks truth to power. I ask tough questions,” Grover said on behalf of Ayyub.
Ayyub informed the court that she will return on April 12, to which Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, representing the ED, contended that she will “never return.” The court had earlier sought a status report from Ayyub.
Grover said that Ayyub had family in Mumbai, where she lives as part of her joint family.
“Can I run away with money that is frozen?” she asked.
The high court, reported Bar and Bench, asked ASG Raju as to how the ED planned to defend the timing of the LOC when it had admitted that Ayyub has joined investigation whenever summons have been issued.
ASG Raju sought to argue that “appearance is not cooperation,” to which the court retorted that there is no “stick to measure this” if an accused person is indeed appearing before an investigating agency.
“If there is non-cooperation then why don’t you arrest her?” the court asked.
In the course of arguments, the ASG sought to train focus on the allegations against Ayyub, including those of money being siphoned off and so on. These charges have been denied by Ayyub.
Global journalists’ bodies and participants on social media had decried the move to stop Ayyub from travelling abroad with the help of the ED and a timed summons notice. International media outlets had focused on the fact that Ayyub has been outspoken against Narendra Modi and his government. The ED investigation against Ayyub was notably kickstarted following a complaint by a member of a ‘Hindu IT Cell.’
Note (November 4, 2022): A reference to The Wire’s Tek Fog findings has been edited out as the stories have now been removed from public view pending the outcome of an internal review, as one of its authors was part of the technical team involved in our now retracted Meta coverage. More details about the Meta stories may be seen here.